Colleen Murray is the fiery, forward-thinking Director of Operations at Perkins & Co, based in Portland, OR. She oversees and sets strategy for the Human Resources Department and is responsible for all aspects of firm operations including cross-departmental projects, administration, implementation of strategic initiatives, and participating as a member of the senior leadership team.
Perkins & Co has been named one of Oregon’s Most Admired Companies for eight years and was ranked Oregon’s “Most Admired” CPA firm for three of those years. We admire Colleen’s strategic insight and love working with her and her team on various learning and development initiatives.
ConvergenceCoaching: Whose leadership style do you most admire and why?
CM: Recently, there were a few people who stood out to me through a very public demonstration of their values as a leader. I admire people who are willing to use their position to make change to benefit the greater good (or a large group). I recall being struck by Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors who gave up the company’s electric vehicle patents for fair use. In March, I received an email from the CEO of First Tech Federal Credit Union addressing a recent online platform change that was less than smooth. He said things like “…it is clear that for some of you we have failed. I am truly sorry for the pain that we have caused.” He then outlined steps the company is taking to “regain [customer] confidence.” To top it off, he included his personal email in the message (!). In February, the CEO of Aetna published a post on LinkedIn describing how they raised their base wage to $16 an hour and started to offer a free mindfulness-based wellness program for employees.
It is this type of clarity of personal and corporate values that makes a company’s culture and leadership a strategic advantage in the marketplace. As an employee, these words and actions are compelling! I had an emotional response to each that engendered a measure of brand favorability.
ConvergenceCoaching: What do you think the single most important leadership attribute or characteristic is and why?
CM: Honesty. This can come in the form of saying what you truly feel, really need, what someone’s behavior resulted in, or what happened and what the impact will be. Further, honesty creates genuine human connection. Honesty (often tied to vulnerability) goes a long way in building trust, especially with people who have limited exposure to working with a leader directly. When someone is honest about their shortcomings or irksome traits, I find them surprisingly easier to tolerate.
ConvergenceCoaching: What do you look for in young up-and-coming leaders?
CM: Personally, I look for engagement or passion in something. Maybe they volunteered to be on the Wellness Committee or got involved in training early in their career. When someone is willing to express their interest or passion in something, that’s someone I want to invest in. However, it’s the company’s job to create opportunities for people to speak and be heard, especially if they are the type that doesn’t typically speak up in a crowd. Additionally, self-awareness is a good sign that someone can have success more easily in early leadership roles.
ConvergenceCoaching: How do you develop leadership in others?
CM: Everyone is different so the approach isn’t necessarily standard. It’s about supporting one’s confidence, helping them develop critical thinking skills, and giving them information about the resources around them. It can be hard to know how to get answers and make things happen without many years of experience, or to even understand what opportunities are available. Confidence building comes from ensuring an employee knows the steps to do their job, understands the expectations, and has you as a resource for questions at any point. Repeated success by working for managers who
provide this level of support builds confidence. Working closely with supervisors on engagements increases an employee’s exposure to higher level thinking and big picture concepts. Great management builds the work skills and necessary foundation of confidence for someone to try new things and be accountable in a leadership role. Lastly, I try hard to be thoughtful about who would benefit from involvement in a project or attending a training that offers leadership development. Existing leaders need to be thinking this way constantly to develop junior employees.
ConvergenceCoaching: What advice do you have for those looking to step into a leadership position in their firms or businesses?
CM: Trust yourself and try. If someone has told you they believe you are ready, then trust that you have the foundation needed to be successful, even though you will need to learn a lot and make mistakes along the way. If you don’t yet have the attention of senior management, speak up about what matters to you and get the answers you need as to how you can demonstrate your capabilities and become “ready” in their eyes.
ConvergenceCoaching: What three words best describe your leadership style?
CM: Enthusiastic, communicative, responsible.
We think it’s great that Colleen mentioned honesty as her most important leadership trait because she demonstrates that characteristic herself. Ever since we’ve known her, she’s been a straight-talking, no-nonsense communicator who is solely interested in generating great ideas and solutions in our time together. She’s invested in the development of her people at Perkins and we think she has is having a big impact on the success of their firm.
The point Colleen makes about the responsibility of firm leaders and managers is also an important one. Managers should provide the necessary support for their people to learn and continue improving their skills. While up-and-comers need to demonstrate initiative and ownership, at times it can be challenging for them to know what is acceptable for them to take ownership of and where their opportunities lie.
How does honesty rank in your top leadership characteristics? What are you doing to ensure you’re supporting your future leaders? Share with us in the comments box below!
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